Shot over nine days in Madrid, “The Human Voice” is Almodóvar’s first film in the English language.
Pedro Almodóvar directs Tilda Swinton in a sumptuous reimagination of Jean Cocteau’s play The Human Voice, from which the director had already drawn inspiration in Women on the Verge of A Nervous background.
For those familiar with the black and white short film by Roberto Rossellini starring the great Anna Magnani, Almodóvar has conceived a completely different work. If this new version of The Human Voice retains the dialogue of the original text, it also pushes the protagonist’s anxiety and paranoia to the extreme. Almodóvar is a master at depicting edgy characters, and Swinton is the perfect choice to play a woman forced to come to terms with the debris of her relationship.
The tone employed in the opening scenes, as Swinton helplessly wanders around her apartment, creates almost a Hitchcockian suspense, with the elegant music by long time collaborator Alberto Iglesias highlighting the sense of mystery.
Like other directors, for instance, Tarantino, Almodóvar never disguises the inspirations behind his works; but whilst in Tarantino’s cinema, these references are often very explicit, in Almodovar’s they usually appear in the form of objects owned by characters. Here, Swinton is surrounded by books and films that, presumably, have inspired Almodóvar; these include Kill Bill, Written on the Wind, Tender is the Night and a book by Truman Capote.
The director updates Cocteau’s play to our troubled times, where, despite the availability of the most sophisticated technology to interact, when it comes to human relations, there is still a lack of connection. In this version, the lover, of whom we feel the presence only through the telephone call, seems even more distant, almost a ghost inhabiting the environment.
There is a strong feeling of isolation in the film, Swinton’s character being alone in her apartment with only a dog to keep her company. The woman looks as if imprisoned in her obsessions and despair; it’s a striking image that speaks to our own vulnerability.
Yet, by the end, she returns in control. In a series of visually powerful closing scenes, Swinton, who until now was dressed in typical Almodóvar red, changes to a rebellious post-punk look and abandon her past, leaving it to be consumed by flames. As she walks out of her previous life to start anew, she seems to have achieved the freedom she never had.
The Human Voice is in cinemas from 7th November with a Q&A with Tilda Swinton and Pedro Almodóvar hosted by Mark Kermode.